|L ~ S fl Two lypes of Criticism:
4.4 Analysis and Evaluation
n everyday speech, when people use the word criticism, they usually mean some sort of negative commentary. In literary studies, however, criticism is not necessarily negative. Criticism is simply any careful, reasoned response to a literary work. When you write about works of literature, you will be practicing, in a rudimentary way, the art of criticism.
There are many, many different approaches to criticism. Each approach represents particular views about the relationship between the reader and a text and about which elements of a literary work are important to consider. Some common approaches to criticism are described in the chart on the following page. However, a full treatment of these is beyond the scope of this text, and knowledge of them is not essential for success on reading tests.
What is essential is that you understand that whatever approach a critic takes, he or she usually does analysis, evaluation, or both. When you encounter an open-response question about a literary work, think about whether the question is asking you to analyze or to evaluate and respond accordingly.
Analyzing a Literary Text
Analysis is the process of dividing something into its parts and then studying how the parts are related to one another and to the whole. When you analyze a literary text, you look at its elements and techniques and see how these are related.
Here is an example of a question that asks you to do an analysis:
What is the central conflict in this story, how is it introduced, and how is it
To answer this question, you need to analyze the central conflict, or struggle, faced by the protagonist by dividing it into its parts: the inciting incident that introduces the conflict and the resolution in which the conflict is brought to a conclusion.
Here is another example of an analysis question:
Who is the main character in this story, and what sets her apart from the other characters?
To answer this question, you need to identify the main character and then think about the qualities of that character—the characteristics that set her apart from other characters in the story. These qualities might include the character’s appearance, her background, the nature of her relationships with other characters, her motivations, or any of a wide number of other characteristics.
Here is yet another example of an analysis question:
What is the mood of this selection, and
how is that mood created?
To answer this question, you need to identify the elements of the selection that create its mood, or overall emotional effect.
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Some Common Approaches
Biographical criticism relates elements of a literary work to events in the life of the author.
Didactic criticism deals with the moral, ethical, or political messages in literary works.
Feminist criticism looks at a text from the point of view of what it reveals about gender roles and/or the relative status of men and women.
Formal criticism explains a literary work in terms of its genre or type.
Freudian criticism relates a literary work to the psychoanalytic theories advanced by Sigmund Freud and his followers, with particular emphasis on unconscious motivations; wish fulfillments; and suppressed, unresolved conflicts from childhood.
Historical criticism relates a literary work to the time and place in which it was produced.
New Criticism, a critical movement whose heyday was the mid-twentieth century, emphasizes close analysis of texts and criticism based only on the elements and techniques used in the text, not on matters outside the work itself such as politics, historical context, or authors’ biographies.
Reader-response criticism holds that the meaning of a literary text lies not in the text itself but in the subjective experience that the reader has when reading. A radical but related approach, deconstructionist criticism, holds that a text itself has no independent meaning or reality but is constructed by the reader in the process of reading.
Structuralist criticism views a literary work from the point of view of essential “binary opposites” involved in or implied by the work, such as good/evil, sacred/profane, real/illusory, natural/artificial, literary/nonliterary, and so on. The idea behind structuralist criticism is that people, including authors, inherit
languages that predispose them to view the world in terms of certain opposing categories, ideas, or forces and that these predispositions determine, to a great extent, the content and structure of a work.
Lesson 4.4—Two Types of Criticism: Analysis and Evaluation Hi
These might include elements of the setting (an old house with creaky doors and floorboards, a thunderstorm, night, darkness, fog, etc.); specific imagery used in the selection (“the ghastly reflections of yellowed candlelight in the broken windowpanes,” “cobwebs,” “the scurrying of mice”); a suspenseful twist in the plot; the tone assumed by the narrator; and the diction that the narrator uses.
In each of the examples just given, the question requires that you look back over the selection to find particular elements. Identifying elements and thinking about how they relate to a particular concern or question is what analysis is all about.
Evaluation is the process of arriving at a judgment, or opinion, of someone or something. Suppose that you are walking out of a movie, and a friend asks, “What did you think of it?” Your friend is asking you for an evaluation—in this case, for an overall evaluation of the film. To answer your friend, you might simply say, “It was great” or “I hated it,” but when you answer evaluation questions on a standardized test, you will have to be much more specific, identifying particular aspects of the selection that support your evaluation. Here is an example of an evaluation question:
Should Mr. McKuen have refused his
neighbor’s offer? Why, or why not?
This question asks you to make a judgment about the actions of a character, Mr. McKuen. You have to form an opinion about whether Mr. McKuen should have acted as he did and then support your opinion with evidence from the selection.
Analysis and Evaluation
As you have learned in this lesson, two functions of criticism, and two different tasks that you will need to carry out when answering written questions, are analysis and evaluation. To summarize the differences between the two:
Analysis involves gathering related facts from the selection and then generalizing, or drawing an inference, based upon those facts. A written answer to an analysis question might begin with the generalization, or inference, and then present facts to support it. The result of the analysis—the conclusion drawn based upon consideration of various elements of the selection—is an interpretation.
Evaluation involves making a judgment, or statement of opinion, about some aspect of the work or about the work as a whole and then supporting that judgment with facts. A written answer to an evaluation question might begin with the judgment and then present facts to support it.
Analysis = related facts and
generalization about them
Evaluation = judgment supported by facts
A Read the selection from Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a tale about a headless horseman. Then
follow the directions given after it.
- Evaluating a Literary Text
[T]his sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called
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the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still . . . holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs; have trances and visions, and see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the night-mare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.
Write a paragraph in response to the following analysis question about this passage from Irving’s story:
How does Washington Irving create
suspense in his opening description of
the valley known as Sleepy Hollow?
Follow these steps:
1 First, review the passage and make a list, on your own paper, of elements in Irving’s description of the setting that contribute to creating suspense.
2 Next, write a sentence that states, generally, the idea that the author creates suspense at the beginning of his story in his description of the valley. In this first sentence for your paragraph, make sure to use both the author’s name and the full title of the story. Place the title in quotation marks.
3 Then, on your own paper, write your paragraph. Use the sentence that you wrote in step 2, above, as the first sentence and topic sentence of your paragraph. In the body sentences, present the details from the list you made in step 1. You can present details by quoting or by paraphrasing (putting them in your own words). Make sure to use quotation marks around any direct quotations. As you write, use transitions at the beginnings of sentences to connect your ideas. Transitions that you might use include in addition, furthermore, another example, yet another example, first, then, next, finally, in short, or in summary.
B Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is usually thought of as a spooky story for children. Imagine that you are an editor at a publishing house that is preparing an anthology of stories for children aged seven to ten. Based on the passage that you have just read from Irving’s story, write a paragraph evaluating the suitability of the story for the anthology. State your judgment about whether the story is suitable for seven-toten-year-olds in your topic sentence. Then support your opinion with evidence.